My favorite part about summer is napping in the hot sun. I have always loved tanning, and for many years, I saw sunscreen as optional! However, the research is unanimous. When we have fun in the sun without taking proper precautions, we put our long-term health at risk. This article explores the key aspects of sun safety, and why they should matter for you.
Why We Need To Practice Sun Safety!
The sun is natural. Moreover, exposure to sunshine increases our body’s synthesis of Vitamin D, which is key to development, mood, and bodily functions.
On the other hand, the sun emits UV rays, which are a type of radiation. UV (ultraviolet) rays are also emitted by sun lamps and tanning beds. There are three types of UV radiation that are emitted by the sun.
- UVA Radiation causes premature ageing, tanning, and is linked to some skin cancers
- UVB Radiation causes sunburns, delayed tanning, and is linked to many skin cancers
- UVC Radiation is very dangerous. Luckily, the ozone layer around the earth filters out UVC radiation. Therefore, we do not have to worry about UVC rays.
Ultimately, UV rays of all varieties have an impact on our skin. The intensity of UV radiation is dependent on the season, time of day, weather, ozone thickness, reflections, altitude, and latitude.
Thus, if you are on a tall mountain near the equator, in the middle of a summer day surrounded by snow (or water), you are probably being exposed to high levels of UV radiation. Especially compared to your buddy who is relaxing beside Canada’s north Pacific coast.
Sun Safety Protects Against Skin Cancer
While a tan and even premature aging are not (in my opinion) an awful thing, overexposure to UV rays has been connected to skin cancer.
Our skin is our body’s largest organ, and it protects us from bacteria, dehydration, and pollution. Therefore, it is important that we protect our skin when we can.
The sun can cause skin damage. When your cell’s DNA is damaged, it can become cancerous.
Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are relatively mild forms of skin cancer that can be treated with surgery. Malignant melanoma, on the other hand, spreads rapidly and is difficult to treat. Melanoma has been linked to a history of sunburns, which is why prevention and sun safety is key.
How To Stay Safe In The Sun
We know that the sun emits potentially harmful radiation. We know that exposure to sun rays can cause skin cancer. Therefore, we know that sun safety is key to protecting our long-term health.
When we practice sun safety, we also prevent premature aging!
So how do we do it?
Well, we could just stay indoors, but we also know that being outside has a strong impact on our mental and physical health.
Luckily, sun safety is relatively simple! I’ll admit, there are many times that I slack when it comes to avoiding the sun, but that doesn’t mean the following tips aren’t important.
- Shade: naturally, shade blocks UV radiation, although some shade is more effective than others when it comes to avoiding the sun. Trees, umbrellas, pergolas, and a variety of other structures can provide shade on a sunny day. Shade also is slightly cooler, which is key when avoiding heat stroke!
- Clothing: long-sleeved clothing, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and more protect your skin from UV radiation. Tightly woven fabrics are best for protection against the sun, as loosely woven cloth can allow UV rays through. All the same, long sleeves are better than short sleeves when it comes to sun safety!
- Sunscreen: it is difficult to practice sun safety when you’re not wearing sunscreen! The CDC suggests using sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and reapplying every 2 hours (or at least after swimming). Reapplication of sunscreen is the aspect of sun safety that I personally struggle with the most. Oftentimes, I will slather sunscreen on in the morning, but by the afternoon, I rely on my tan and shade to prevent burns. I am NOT suggesting this method for people who are truly seeking to practice sun safety.
When The Sun Is Strong
While the sun is stronger when a hemisphere is tilted towards the sun (summer in the Northern hemisphere), we need to practice sun safety whenever we are exposed to extended UV radiation.
Skiers need to be careful, as snow and ice reflect UV rays making the rays twice as strong!
Moreover, the sun can be stronger than you think, EVEN when it’s cloudy. In the past five years, my worst burns happened after spending the day outside when it was cloudy. Why? Because when it’s cloudy, I forget that it’s important to still wear sunscreen and long-sleeved clothing!
Does A Tan Protect Against The Sun?
For a long time, people said that a base tan could protect them against the sun! This is part of the reason that tanning beds became as prolific as they are today. But, does tanning actually give you protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays?
A tan is your body’s natural response to the stress of sun exposure. During this process, sun exposure stimulates your cells to produce more pigment.
But does this protect against the sun’s rays in the future?
According to Dr. Doug Grossman, yes. And no. A tan does provide some protection against future sunburns. However, our skin cells are still damaged and stressed during the tanning process. When our cells are damaged, they need to be replaced at a faster rate. Healing cells can mutate. These mutations can cause skin cancer in the long run.
And before you think that using a tanning bed is safer, statistics show that tanning beds increase your risk of melanoma by 75%. Yikes! Also, tanning beds emit three times more UV rays than the sun, which increases your exposure by three times!
If you must have a tan, most doctors suggest using spray tans or lotions.
Summer Sun & Sun Safety Takeaway
The overall verdict?
A tan is not worth the damage it does to your skin and cells.
Am I going to stop tanning? Probably not.
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